How to Show Documents Easily With Your Laptop’s Webcam

Hacks as old as time (Photo: David Murphy)
Hacks as old as time (Photo: David Murphy)

Teachers create the best hacks. Full stop. No argument. The clever ways they go about managing the number of kids they oversee — and getting around the limitations of old equipment that often isn’t well maintained — always surprise and delight me. And today’s trending trick for sharing documents via video chats is no different, but you don’t have to be a teacher to appreciate it.

Here’s the scenario. Suppose you need to show people in a Zoom chat a document that you’re working on. Whether you’re highlighting multiplication tables or showing off your Dungeons & Dragons character sheet, doesn’t matter. What does matter is that awkwardly holding it in front of your laptop’s webcam, then having to go fumble with settings to mirror-image the picture so it’s actually readable, is a big pain in the arse.

Instead, try this approach. Go find a compact disc — surely you have some old DVD that you haven’t watched in nine years collecting dust on your entertainment centre shelf — and a pen or a pencil. Tape the pen or pencil to the back of your laptop, and then place the CD or DVD on that, reflective-side down. You might have to fiddle with the angle a bit, but you should be able to soon get the contents of a document sitting in front of your laptop (on the keys) within the reflection, which your webcam will then pick up, like so:

I tried this out, and I only have one addition. The angle of the CD/DVD you’re using is critical for this to work, and you might not have great luck just flopping the compact disc on the pencil. Don’t use a CD or DVD you really care about, because you’ll probably want to add a little extra tape to the top or bottom to secure the precise angle you’ll need for the reflection to look good.

Photo: David Murphy

Other than that, though, this hack totally works. You’ll get some strange stares from your roommates and/or loved ones, but don’t ever let that get in the way of productivity. They’re simply jealous of your mad skills.

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